Verse: Matthew 5:38-39
“You have heard that is was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’  39 But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person.  If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.”

This scripture is often used (incorrectly) to justify revenge on someone who has wronged you.  But to really understand what Jesus was saying to the crowd at the time, we have to know the cultural understanding of this at the time.  The Jewish people would know that this scripture is in Exodus 12:24.  God gave them a long list of laws with the intent to limit the punishment the court could require for a harm done.  In other words, if someone put out the eye of someone in a fight, he couldn’t be killed for it which the aggrieved party could ask for.  So the punishment could be a fine or other compensation but no more than losing their own eye.  Over time, early religious leaders moved this command from the maximum that the courts can do to making this the minimum of what a person should do to another person.

Jesus is telling us in this scripture that we should overlook insults and minor offenses.  When I read this about someone striking me on the cheek, I don’t see this as an insult or minor offense.  This reads to me like a punch in the face!  Am I supposed to turn and readily let him punch me again?  However being struck on the right cheek culturally meant a deep insult, not a physical attack.  Since most people are right-handed, being struck on the right cheek means a backhanded slap.  Reminds me of the times when people slapped someone with a glove to challenge them to a dual.  

We are told that Jesus modeled how we should act.  He was frequently insulted and spoken against and at most would come back with a parable to help them learn why they did not understand him.  He barely said anything when he was arrested even though many people spoke against him.  So we are told to be like him and not defend ourselves or to attack the other person who has offended us but to “turn the other cheek” and allow ourselves to be offended again without taking offense.  

This is still a very hard teaching because we naturally want to defend ourselves.  I know I do.  If you insult me, I’m hurt emotionally and I want to lash out at you.  I want to defend myself and very possibly I want to hurt you like you hurt me.  Jesus wants us to love these people as much as we love those that are nice to us.  If we are loving and non-judgmental, very likely the offending person will wonder why we are different and why we care about them when they are acting badly.  And there is the opening to talk about the Lord.  

Jesus is not saying that evil should not be resisted.  He did resist evil in all its forms whether it came from the evil one or from fallen man.  We should resist evil.  He is not saying that we should not defend ourselves from physical attack.  He is also not saying that his words apply to the how the government should restrain evil in society.  He is talking about how we should live our personal lives to be more like him.  

This week, consider how you react to slights and insults.  Are you defensive?  Do you fight back?  Or can you find strength in the Lord to love even those that insult you.  

Lord, give us the strength to deal calmly with those that attack us with slights and insults and respond to them in love.  Give us wisdom to see their hurts and needs as you see them so that we can tell them about you and your love for them.  Help us to be more like you in all ways.